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Ask Dave

Bringing Home the Bacon

Sharon makes more money than her boyfriend. It's causing issues in their relationship now. What's the best way to address these issues?

QUESTION: Sharon in Ohio makes more money than her boyfriend. It’s causing issues in their relationship now. What’s the best way to address these issues?

ANSWER: Don’t start paying the other person’s bills until you are married. If you pay his bills before then, it changes the relationship, even if you don’t want it to. You become a sugar momma and not a girlfriend. Even if neither of you want it to, you can’t keep it from changing the relationship, because it just does.

It can change it very negatively to where you begin to lose respect for him accidently, slowly and subtle. He may become bitter or a bit of a parasite. But it wouldn’t start out that way. It would start out very normal. But over time, these things can drive a wedge in there and ruin a good relationship.

And on top of that, the obvious thing is that if the relationship doesn’t work out, the money is gone. You won’t look back on that later and say it was a good idea. I wouldn’t do that until you are married.

If you guys are serious about each other and serious about money, you are serious enough to talk to him about this and about how you do a budget because a cell phone probably shouldn’t be cut off. He is probably disorganized and stressed out.

It might be all right to say you are going to pay for two Financial Peace University memberships and the two of you go through it together as a part of your dating plan. Get him some help to manage the money that he’s got. But if you start handing out dollars, you are going to change the whole deal. There is very little upside to this, and mostly it’s downside.

You didn’t ask about this, but I’ll throw it in. The other thing is this: There are many couples who do just fine with the wife making more than the husband. But that has everything to do with the people involved and how they view things.

You really have to spend some time on that, and I will tell you this: I met with a friend of mine who was a doctor not too long ago, and he stays at home. After many years, it started to cause problems because his self-esteem and her respect for him have dwindled. Eventually, you’ve got to see him growing in his career track. You have to see him wanting to better himself.

He may never make more than you, but you want to see him growing. So him looking for a job and developing résumés is a discussion you’ve been having. That is a good sign on that part of the discussion. But I really want you guys to focus on that because at no point in this process is he going to kick back and put his feet up on the desk and leave you to make all the money and this be all right.

A very, very small percentage of people pull that off. There are lots of couples where the guy is growing and getting better in his field and earns less than his wife and they are fine because he’s attaining goals and those kinds of things. That’s different than you grabbing hold of the handlebars and he’s just going to sit there and ride with it.

That just doesn’t work for many people on a practical basis. I’m not about whether it should or shouldn’t work, or how people ought to be. I’m just talking about how they are. That’s what you’re really looking at.